August 21, 2006

First test event for 2008 Games under way in Qingdao

By Nick Mulvenney

QINGDAO, China (Reuters) - The first official test event
for the 2008 Olympics got underway on Monday afternoon when a
fleet of boats sailed out into the Yellow Sea to begin
competition in the biggest regatta ever held in China.

The Qingdao International Regatta was opened by Beijing
organizing Committee President Liu Qi in a ceremony on Sunday
evening, just under two years before the Games start in the
Chinese capital on August 8, 2008.

Pre-competition concerns about a lack of wind at the
purpose-built venue in the Eastern Chinese port city were eased
a little by a fair breeze which set the flags around the harbor
fluttering on Monday morning.

"We will have difficulties in August as the wind speed, sea
current and tide range are adverse to holding an top level
international regatta," Qingdao mayor Xia Geng told a news
conference at the weekend.

"Despite this, we are confident our technical staff will
find solutions."

Other concerns for the organizers were China's complete
lack of any tradition in sailing as a sport and the
inexperience of all concerned in dealing with a top level event
with nearly 500 competitors in more than 300 boats.

"During the past three years, Qingdao has done its utmost
to deal with the challenges," Xia added.

"We have tried our best to publicize sailing and sent many
staff to study abroad."

The impressive 3.28 billion yuan facility, built from
scratch over the last two years, has yet to be completed and
what will be the athletes' village is still a concrete shell.

The consensus of opinion among those who witnessed
preparations for the 2004 Athens Games, however, is that
Qingdao is well ahead by comparison.

"Essentially, these guys could hold the Olympics tomorrow,"
said one International Sailing Federation (ISAF) official.

A new format for the Olympic sailing competition adopted by
the ISAF last year is being used at the regatta and features a
medal race aimed at providing a climax to each of the 11

The second test event for the 2008 Games this year is the
world softball championship, which starts in Beijing on Sunday.